Gun Review: Marlin 1894C .357 Magnum

RF and I had big plans: we were each going to get a Marlin .357 Magnum lever-action carbine and trick it out in dramatically different ways. He was going to build a 21st-Century Cowboy Assault Rifle: 10 quick and handy rounds of manually operated California-legal thunder, all wrapped in a weatherproof polymer stock and sporting the latest in tactical lights, lasers and red-dot optics. As I opined before, John Wayne might have carried RF’s project gun into movie stardom if “The Searchers” had been written by Tom Clancy and directed by Tony Scott . . .

My Marlin project would be an updated retro-classic: a saddle gun that an old cowpoke might have carried, with just a few understated modern conveniences that didn’t exist when lever-action rifles ruled the frontier. And no saddle ring, since I don’t have a horse.

The Reality:

The buttstock snapped off Farago’s rifle before he could even fire the damned thing.  Since the gun is unusable and Marlin’s gone radio silent on its return, his plan is languishing in Purgatory. Mine proceeded apace, aided considerably by the timely arrival of the Leupold VXII variable-power scout scope.

The Gun:

As we’ve both chronicled for TTAG, our starting platform was the Marlin 1894C with an 18 inch barrel, chambered in .357 Magnum.  It’s a blued-steel and walnut affair, 36 inches long and weighing a hair over 6 pounds.  Its tubular magazine feeds one round at a time through a loading gate on the right side of the forged steel receiver, and holds 9 rounds of .357 Magnum or 10 rounds of .38 Special.

Before firing the Marlin, I replaced the stock beaded front post and semi-buckhorn rear sights with ghost-ring sights from SX Sight Systems, and mounted their Lever Rail scope mount.  As I describe below, I also did a very light ‘fluff and buff’ on the bolt and lever.

I also had to apply a polyurethane finish to the checkered walnut fore-end myself, since Marlin forgot that step of the manufacturing process.

Wood Fit And Finish:

My first encounter with the Marlin 1894C was a disappointment.  The back half of the stock isn’t fit properly to the metal, and the front half was shaped and sanded but not finished.  As I noted in my unboxing video, the wood was still ‘in the rough’ and desperately thirsty for a protective clear-coat.  Luckily for those of us who didn’t score well in Wood Shop class, a can of “Gun Sav’r Hunter Satin” spray finish is only $14 from Brownell’s.  The final result looks fantastic (especially for my handiwork) but it doesn’t quite match the grain or smoothness of the buttstock.  I’ll live with it.

I’m not sure I can live with the gap between the buttstock and the receiver, because it can let in dirt, sand, water, or stray business cards.  Since the tang screw holes have already been drilled, this repair is well beyond my modest woodworking abilities.

I’ll probably pay my own money to see if a gunsmith can carefully refit the stock.  Marlin can’t seem to get its act together fixing Farago’s broken-ass rifle, so I’m not sure I trust them to fix mine promptly.  Or properly.  Or ever.

For these mistakes, the 1984C earns a grade of C- in Wood Shop.

Metal Fit And Finish:

The basic standard of metalwork on this gun isn’t just decent: it’s really good.  Running your fingers along the detailed machining and fine bluing of the receiver gives you a respect for the level of skilled craftsmanship that goes into such a rifle.  It’s a feeling you just don’t get from an investment-cast slide or a polymer pistol frame.

But your bliss is soon disrupted by a few glaring deficiencies that make you wonder just how  ‘skilled’ some of Marlin’s new workforce really is.

An assembler at the factory had marred the barrel band screw with an improper screwdriver, and gouged the barrel band in the process.

They also mangled the magazine cap screw so badly that it’s nearly impossible to remove. Do I sense the same assembler’s ‘handiwork’ here? Marlin, please spend a few bucks and buy your Bubba gunsmith the right screwdriver.  “Grade F–Unintentional” engraving has no place on any new rifle.

In addition to the Bubba with the Leatherman screwdriver, Marlin seems to employ a few machinists asleep at their CNC mills.  The end of the lever itself (the hidden end that engages the bolt inside the receiver) showed some crude machining or forging marks, which I very delicately buffed up to smoothen the action a bit.

The Marlin’s square bolt is an extremely complex hunk of milled forged steel, and it slides into the receiver from the rear like a key into a lock.  My Marlin’s bolt fits perfectly into the receiver, but the upper surface of the bolt was so rough that it looked and felt like a metal rasp.  This is what it looks like now, after a buffing with 800-grit sandpaper:

It looked worse than this out of the box.  Much worse. 

The machining and finish would earn an A- in Metal Shop, but these little mistakes add up to a final grade of B. Back to school, Marlin.

Sights:

The Marlin’s handling is outstanding straight from the box, but the stock sights are mediocre at best. The hooded front post and semi-buckhorn rear leaf are historically correct (especially if you pull off the cheap-feeling detachable front hood) but they work just like the crappy iron sights on an AK: they waste most of the rifle’s available sighting radius and they block out the bottom half of whatever you’re aiming at. As Orwell would say, that’s double-plus ungood.

Luckily there’s a whole industry devoted to improving the sights on lever-action rifles. Marbles and Lyman have sold millions of their classic tang-mounted folding aperture sights, and Williams’ adjustable receiver sight is among the finest precision rear sights ever made. Cowboy action shooters can’t go wrong with any of these, but I wanted to upgrade to something more robust and more visible in poor light and I wanted to mount a long eye-relief scope on the gun.

There are many ghost-ring sight systems available from Wild West Guns, Grizzly Custom Guns, and XS Sight Systems. They’re all fast and rugged and highly visible, and I chose the XS ghost ring sights and rail because it also provides a long Picatinny rail section for mounting any kind of scope you want. As Orwell also put it, it’s double-plus good!

Functioning:

I was delighted to discover that the Marlin’s flaws were, for the most part, only skin-deep. Loading, feeding, firing and ejection are all extremely reliable with a wide range of ammunition.

I fed the Marlin a smorgasbord of nearly every type of cartridge and bullet shape that you can possibly feed through a .357 Magnum. Factory loads and handloads, light cowboy loads and heavy magnums, jacketed, plated and lead bullets with round, hollowpoint and semi-wadcutter shapes, both .38 Specials and .357 Magnums.

I basically begged it to jam, but the Marlin fed, fired and ejected every one of them without any malfunctions.  The only bullets I avoided were conical bullets (because they’re not safe to use in tubular magazines) and wadcutters (because I hate them.)

Loading blunt-nosed bullets into the tubular magazine isn’t quite as easy as it looks in the Westerns. The loading gate is stiffer than it needs to be, and it can be a bit of a finger-biter if you stick the end of your index finger in too far.

Even once you get the hang of it, round-nosed bullets are a tad easier to load than jacketed hollowpoints. 158-grain plated roundnose hollowpoints loaded and fed the smoothest of all, ‘Like Buttah’ as Mike Myers used to say. The trickiest to load: my cheapest plinking load, a mild 158 grain LSWC.  These square-shouldered slugs take some jiggling to load into the magazine, but they’re notoriously difficult to chamber in anything. They don’t even like revolvers (especially with speedloaders) and they give many lever-action rifles fits.

The Marlin handled them with only two hiccups: I don’t consider them ‘malfunctions,’ but two of these LSWCs (out of 100 fired) required a singly tiny jiggle of the lever before they chambered. I’m not grading the Marlin down for this, since I really had no business expecting them to feed at all. They weren’t the rifle’s most accurate load, but they fired just fine.

Ignition was 100% reliable, with all primers showing a solid and uniform impact.  Ejection was also 100%, whether I snapped the lever forward sharply or cycled it slowly. This rifle is a brass-scrounger’s delight: it drops all your empties in a tidy pile a few feet to your right.

The Marlin earns an A+ in reliability.

Handling:

I’ve never shot a rifle that handles as quickly and instinctively as this little Marlin.  It mounts like a fine upland side-by-side: light and balanced and lively, but with just enough weight at the muzzle to keep it from quivering like a buggy whip.

It fits me absolutely perfectly, and perhaps this is a lucky match of the gun’s dimensions and my own. Taller or smaller shooters might not get the warm fuzzies I get when it snaps to my shoulder, and unfortunately there won’t really be anything they can do about it.  An aftermarket recoil pad or cheek-piece might help a little, but nothing about the gun itself is adjustable in any way.

As I mentioned before, the lever and the bolt were a bit rough out of the box.  Even after my little fluff-and-buff (which no gun of this price should require) it’s not the smoothest lever I’ve ever worked: that honor falls to a magnificent Uberti reproduction of the Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy. After about 500 rounds fired, the Marlin’s lever retention button and spring are still a bit too stiff, and I’ve learned to give the lever a little snap of the wrist to open the action.

Stiff retention button or no, these are fast-handling guns. Muzzle blast is muted and recoil nonexistent unless you’re firing the hottest 125-grain loads. You won’t lose your cheek-weld or your sight picture during firing, so it’s like firing a loud .22 that shoots big-ass bullets. After a box or two of shells, you’ll be able to empty the rifle into a dancing tin can at 25 yards in less than ten seconds.

In Handling Class, the Marlin would get an A+, but there’s one serpent in this garden of ergonomic Eden: the trigger. I’ll be bringing the trigger back for detention after we talk about accuracy.

Accuracy:

To be honest, I had modest expectations for this gun’s accuracy.  It is, after all, a short-barreled carbine with a slow-twist barrel (1 turn in 16 inches) firing pistol rounds that sometimes mosey along at a pretty pedestrian pace.

I fired five-shot groups of a variety of handloaded and factory ammunition at 50 yards, with the Leupold scout scope dialed ‘all the way’ up to 4x.  The first group size listed is the average of all groups fired with that load.  The second size listed is those same group average, normalized by excluding one called flyer per group. If there’s more than one blown shot in any group, whether its called or not, I take responsibility for it myself.

I had a lot of called flyers, because the Marlin’s trigger is so heavy, creepy and gritty that I found myself blowing a lot of shots.  I knew I blew them even before I checked the target with the spotting scope. These ‘called flyers’ are not indicative of the inherent accuracy of the gun, but they do illustrate the effect that poor controls have on the gun’s practical accuracy.

Or maybe they just make the gun both look better, and give me a pass for sucking at the range yesterday.  I report; you decide.

50 Yards:

.38 Special 158-gr LRN:  2.26 inches.  Note: limited ammo supply, no called flyers.

.357 Magnum 158-gr LSWC: 3.29 inches. (2.56 inches excluding called flyers)

.357 Magnum 158-gr Sellier & Bellot JSP: 2.83 inches (1.70 inches)

.357 Magnum 158-gr Plated HP: 2.56 inches (2.26 inches)

.357 Magnum 125-gr Remington JHP: 2.36 inches (1.10 inches)

This Remington load was so remarkably accurate that I walked it over to the 100-yard range, where it averaged 2.80 inches, with a surprising 2.00 inch average after excluding the single called flyer.

Comparing the Marlin to other rifles of all types, I’d give it a solid B for accuracy within its practical range of no more than 125 yards.  With a better trigger (and fewer flyers) it might earn an A-.

The Trigger: Detention Time

The more I shoot it, the more I am forced to accept that this rifle has positively the worst trigger I’ve ever fired on any rifle, with the exception of a $95 Chinese SKS from the early 1990s.

It’s so heavy and gritty (at least ten pounds, maybe more) that it just kills the fun of trying to shoot this rifle with precision. It’s  hard to describe just how hard it is to pull this trigger. It’s heavy and sticky for a while, then it sort of clicks into a false break, and then it gets even harder and stickier until it finally, interminably, breaks and finally fires.  If you’re down in the scope and aiming at a distant target, there’s a 20% chance that you’re not on target anymore. It’s like a knife that’s so dull it actually makes you more likely to cut yourself. It really is that bad.

But not to worry: I’ll be replacing it with a (hopefully) drop-in replacement trigger from Wild West Guns. I give the stock trigger a D, but watch this space for updates.

Ammo: Find The Right Load…

If I hadn’t brought such a variety of ammunition to the range, I might have gone home convinced that this was a 5 MOA rifle, and I would have been a little disappointed with that. With the right load, however, this rifle is as accurate as most hunting semi-automatics and even some bolt-action deer rifles. With a scope inside of 125 yards, it will even work as a varmint rifle.  From a light, quick and insanely fun rifle like this, that’s pretty damned good.

And Stick With It

Most rifles, whatever caliber they are, will show some variation in POI (point of impact) when shooting different loads or bullet weights. At 100 yards my .270, for instance, will shoot an inch or two higher with 130-grain boattails than it will with 150s because of the 130′s higher velocity and flatter trajectory.Sometimes it will shoot an inch or two to the right or left also; I haven’t a clue why.

With pistol-caliber carbines, this effect is taken to an extreme. At a plinking distance of 15 yards, a .38+P load can impact three inches higher than a mild .38 Special cowboy load. At 50 yards, the hot-rod 125-gr Remington JHP hits the target a full eight inches higher than the slower-moving (but still full-powered) 158-grain JSP. If you accidentally switched ammo at 100 yards, your shot would either go over your target’s head or between his knees.

My advice is to find a load or two that shoot accurately and feed reliably in your Marlin or other pistol-caliber carbine, and forsake ye all others. Unless you really like missing.

SUMMARY

John Wayne, Chuck Connors, Lorne Greene and Gary Cooper were onto something: pistol-caliber lever-actions are reliable, accurate, and more fun than a greased pig at the county fair. Unfortunately Farago’s Marlin 1894c’s is an unusable lemon, and mine came from the factory mechanically sound but seriously blemished. No new rifle should be plagued by so many obvious defects–especially one that’s been in production for almost 120 years.

Until Marlin cleans up its shop, everything good about the Marlin 1894c can also be found in the Henry Big Boy. The price is higher, but the workmanship is by most accounts impeccable. Another competitor is the Rossi Puma, a Winchester-based Brazilian import at a lower price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Caliber: .357 Magnum, .38 Special
Barrel: 18 inches, 1 in 16 Ballard-cut rifling.
Overall Length: 36 inches
Weight: just over 6 pounds.
Action: Lever-action, external hammer w/crossbolt safety, tubular magazine.
Finish: Blued steel, satin or matte finish.
Capacity: 9+1 (.357), 10+1 (.38 Special)
Price: $550 and up, if you can find one at all.  They’ve been back-ordered for several months at press time.

RATINGS (out of five)

Accuracy:  * * * 1/2
Inherent accuracy (2 MOA) is impressive from a handy lever-action, but truly horrible trigger will prevent you from consistently realizing such accuracy.  Replace the trigger for four stars.

Ergonomics:  * * * * * (excluding trigger)
Except for the trigger, this is the best-handling rifle I’ve ever handled. Tubular magazine not the easiest to load.

Reliability: * * * * *
500 rounds fired with only two sticky feeds from SWC bullets that aren’t supposed to feed at all?  No problems here.

Customize This: * * *
Aftermarket sights and trigger are a must, rail and sling are optional.  If you’re lucky (cough cough) nothing else will need fixing.

Overall Rating: * *
Handy, handsome, accurate, hard-hitting and economical to shoot, this timeless design has many virtues but is sadly compromised by substandard workmanship and quality control.  My rifle is plagued by cosmetic defects, and Farago’s rifle died before it fired a shot.

64 Responses to Gun Review: Marlin 1894C .357 Magnum

  1. avatarChaz says:

    “round-nosed bullets are a tad easier to load than jacketed hollowpoints”

    Isn’t stacking non flat nosed bullets in a tubular magazine dangerous?

    • avatarMALTHUS says:

      No.
      150 and 170 grain round-nose soft points have been the standard .30-30 Winchester load for more than 100 years. Why would round-nose bullets represent a hazard in lever-action carbines chambered for the .357?

      • Any pointed or rounded pullet is a hazard in a tubular magazine.

        The tip of the bullet touches the primer of the round in front of it. A hard bump can set the rounds off in the magazine.

        • avataroldpink says:

          You might have a point if you were talking about HARDBALL roundnose bullets, which have a hard jacket all the way over the tip to possibly cause that potentially dangerous situation, called “chainfire,” by the way.
          However, the standard .38 special, .45 Colt, and .44 Special loads used in tubular magazine lever guns are LEAD roundnoses, with the Colt especially being even a bit difficult to find in factory loaded format without the 255 or 260 grain lead roundnose.
          Lead RN is safe in tubular magazines because of the very soft lead, and I have yet to hear of anyone having a chainfire while using them.
          The reason that the traditional .30-30 roundnoses aren’t dangerous is because they are softpoints.
          Also, pardon me if I’m telling you or others something you already know, but there is an alternative if you would like to fire conicals in tubular magazines, which is the relatively new Hornady FTX (factory loaded ammo called “LeveRevolution”) component bullets with a soft plastic “elastomer” spitzer, allowing a bit more extended performance from the resulting higher ballistic coefficient, but no danger of chainfire because of the softness of the tips.

  2. avatarMike says:

    Pistol caliber JHPs are pretty blunt. But yeah, you don’t want to load a Sierra Match King in a tubular magazine. Hornady has come out with the LEVERevolution bullets with a fairly pointed tip which are safe to load in a tubular mag.

    • avatarTerry4Strokes says:

      The LEVERevolution bullets are very pointed for a tubular magazine. But, that point is polymer and not hard enough to ignite the primer it may be resting against.

  3. avatarRyan Finn says:

    Wow, so sad to hear about the QC issues and the trigger. It makes me very glad that my 336 was made before Remington bought them and shut down the North Haven plant.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      I should also add the the trigger on mine is one of the best I have ever pulled. So Marlin is definitely capable of producing an excellent trigger.

  4. avatarMALTHUS says:

    I own a pre-64 Model 94 Winchester. They have a reputation for good quality, but mine was factory equipped with a heavy trigger that required the services of a gunsmith to remedy.

    Heavy triggers are endemic to the breed. Be glad that Wild West offers a drop-in option for your Marlin.

  5. avatarZealot says:

    I was lucky enough to fnd one “used” from about 25 years ago and it shows none of the defects you described in your factory-new specimen. I put used in quotations because it seems to have been purchased, fired once or twice and then stored in oil for the balance of its life before coming to me. Fit and finish is impeccable on both wood and metal. It also doesn’t have the checkering on either the buttstock or forend, which I prefer. It does have the micro groove barrel, which reportedly improves accuracy, but requires me to shoot either jacketed bullets or specially cast lead; since I don’t cast or reload my own, my decision is made for me. My trigger also isn’t nearly as bad as you report. Perhaps I got a rare gem, perhaps Marlin was a little more careful back then.

    I agree that you need to find the load(s) that works best in your gun and stick with it. I’ve found the heavier weights perform marginally better and I wonder whether a 125gr “hot rod” would disintegrate too readily on impact in anyhting other than paper at the elevated velocity achieved from the 18″ bbl.

    I like the looks and smoothness of the Henry rifles, but I don’t like that there’s no loading gate in the receiver, requiring the gun to be taken out of battery for a more cumbersome, multi-step reloading process at the muzzle end of the magazine.

    All in all, my 1894C is my favorite gun to behold and to shoot. It’s definitly the one that turns the most heads and most trips to the range involve someone asking to fire a few rounds through it.

  6. avatarChris Dumm says:

    Round-nose, flat-point, softpoint, hollowpoint and wadcutter bullets are all safe to load in tubular magazines. *Pointed* bullets are unsafe, with the exception of Hornady Leverevolutions. I avoided full wadcutters in this test because I can’t stand handloading them or trying to chamber them. In any gun. Ever.

    It looks like I’ve managed to completely muddle this; my bad.

    • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

      Naw, you’re good Bud. I don’t even use lead in anything. It’s nasty and poisonous, it causes undue stress in an automatic-like a pistol, and it fouls up a revolver so much that you have to use even more toxic chemicals to remove the lead. My unit use to close us up in the armory for cleaning weapons, so to this day I can’t be in an unventilated area using CLP to clean weapons. God knows how much lead is already in my bones.

  7. avatarMagoo says:

    Chris Dumm says: “With pistol-caliber carbines, this effect is taken to an extreme. At a plinking distance of 15 yards, a .38+P load can impact three inches higher than a mild .38 Special cowboy load. At 50 yards, the hot-rod 125-gr Remington JHP hits the target a full eight inches higher than the slower-moving (but still full-powered) 158-grain JSP. If you accidentally switched ammo at 100 yards, your shot would either go over your target’s head or between his knees.”

    A great thing about rifles is they run rifle ammo. The handgun-caliber rifle has its purpose, but is sorely compromised for other uses. If you have an actual need for a rifle in handgun caliber, great. Otherwise, they kinda suck. Many people appear to buy them for the coolness factor, and may not even be knowledgeable or proficient enough to learn their shortcomings.

    This is one of the interesting things about the gun world: watching the wheel perpetually being reinvented year after year, decade after decade. Handgun cartridges in rifles. Rifle cartridges in handguns. Rimless cartridges in revolvers. Rimmed cartridges in self-loaders. Shotshell revolvers. Semiauto pistols in .22 WMR. And often, each one pitched as the next big thing. How will it work? As our grandfathers could have told us, not so good.

    • avatarDon says:

      A pistol caliber carbine actually offers a lot more than just coolness factor. I find that most people are not knowledgeable or proficient enough to realize their virtues.

      Since the projectile is only being accelerated while it is in the barrel, the longer barrel actually drastically increases projectile velocity. The increase in velocity between a 4″ and an 18″ barreled .357 magnum between 50%-125% depending on bullet weight and the speed at which your powder burns. Check out Ballistics By the Inch for extensive empirical evidence of this.

      Pistol caliber carbines allow you to use slower burning powders which can give you much more velocity than you could get with a fast burning powder in a pistol. Slower powders also feel different to shoot. Check any good reloading manual for confirmation of this.

      Pistol caliber carbines, with their increased barrel length, have increased sight radius which doesn’t necessarily make them intrinsically more accurate, but makes them far more forgiving to aim, resulting in increased accuracy. This is easy to prove to yourself.

      Pistol caliber carbines, for example a .44 magnum, with factory ammo are comparable in muzzle energy of a 30-30 and the ammo is far cheaper. Chrono both and factor in bullet weight to prove this.

      As unintuitive as it sounds at close range (inside of 100 yards) a .44 magnum carbine actually has slightly higher energy than a 45-70 gov’t depending on ammo choice. Overall, it is comparable. (The energy of the .44 magnum however quickly diminishes over distance due to lower inertia of the lighter projectile and the 45-70 is clearly superior in energy out to more extreme ranges). So if you believe energy equates to dropping power and you are going to be shooting something like deer inside of 100 yards, it would be far more economical to go with a .44 mag carbine. Check out Chuck Hawks rifle cartridge velocity/energy tables at muzzle and 200 yards, or put your chrono down range, aim carefully and do the math.

      Pistol caliber carbines hold a lot of rounds. Pistol caliber leverguns have one of the most compact (in size) actions, resulting in a very compact rifle. They are also legal everywhere and fit inconspicuously in a golf Sunday bag. Check state and local restrictions on firearms.

      Short straight-walled pistol cartridges are very easy and very cheap to reload, so you can shoot a lot more, and therefore have more fun. You can confirm this to yourself by just trying it.

      -D

      • avatarMagoo says:

        Allow me to sum all that up for you: A handgun cartridge may work better in a rifle than in a handgun, but it will not work as well as a rifle cartridge in a rifle. It can’t. Rifle and handgun cartridges are each optimized for their respective purposes. Interchange them and you give up the optimization. That is pretty much the long and the short of it.

        • avatarChris Dumm says:

          This is a very productive discussion, which I think we should carry forward into a future Question Of The Day: Rifle or Pistol-Caliber Carbine?

        • avatarDon says:

          I think you have inferred the exact opposite from the arguments I provided in spite of the relatively uncontroversial and easily interpretable justifications provided.

          The idea of “optimization” is meaningless without defining your cost function. Your cost function is dependent on your goals. “Work Better” depends on what goals you are trying to achieve.

          If you look at the math, and the empirical testing there are some cases where a certain pistol cartridge carbine is “optimal” with respect to perfectly reasonable and uncontrived shooting scenarios, such as hunting deer inside of 100 yards, and as an economical and versatile platform for reloading experiments. I have not posited any pathological scenarios where due to some contrivance, a pistol caliber carbine fares better in my chosen metrics.

          So if the nature of our intended use requires energy inside of 100 yards, medium inertia due to the local foliage, and capacity, then an 1894 is more “optimal” than a 30-30 or a 45-70. What is given up is a bunch of stuff that is not relevant.

          You can make absolutist statements about what is “optimal” with respect to the average of all conceivable shooting scenarios, however these statements have limited utility. The variation in shooting scenarios is not gaussian distributed around some average case with some knowable standard deviation. Really firearms applications are a varied collection of special cases. Absolute statements about things of this nature are uninformative when it comes to trying to decide what platform and caliber to select.

        • avatarDavid says:

          In addition to your comments, there is another consideration for using a pistol caliber carbine.

          That would be the need to only carry one caliber of ammo, assuming you have a pistol in the same caliber. This is what I had in mind when I bought my 1894 in 44 Mag. I bought a Ruger Redhawk to match so that there was only one caliber to stock up on and yet have both a pistol and rifle available.

  8. avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    I believe it is just the conical rounds, and that was the impetus of Hornandy’s Leverevolution rounds, which I use just the same in my .357 revolvers. The shame is that Marlin seems to be having the same QC issues as Colt years ago. I haven’t and won’t buy a Colt anymore. They really screwed up with the M16 fiasco, FN makes the M16 at their SC plant now, not far from my family home. I was able to tour it years ago, it was hard not to grab a “memento.” Back to the Marlin-I hate that they are going down that road. I love my older 1895G in .45-70, so much so that I have an 800 Lumen flashlight off set mounted on the left side. The light is at enough angle to backlight the front sight and illuminate and blind the target. The round I use in it is also the Leverevolution. With Marlin it’s like the last three Taurus revolvers I bought. Apparently pride in your work is becoming a thing of the past. The Taurus revolver’s had too little cylinder gap and would lock up during firing. You couldn’t tell by just a function check. Sure, I fixed them easily, but this is why you should always test fire a weapon before you carry it for protection.

  9. avatarBrad Kozak says:

    Great review, Chris! I’ve always thought lever-action rifles are to rifles what revolvers are to handguns – about as simple, reliable, and idiot-proof as you can get in something that has a multi-round magazine that you want to go “boom” first time, every time.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about the receiver-based loading on the Marlin/Winchester designs versus the muzzle-end loading configuration of the Henry. I’ve got a Golden Boy – it’s a lot of fun to shoot, but I find loading it to be cumbersome and would be a little difficult in a pressure situation.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Reloading a muzzle-fed tubular magazine has got to be the single most hazard-prone loading evolution in all of metallic cartridge shooting. There’s no way to do it without *some* part of your body being forward of the muzzle, and there’s no way to keep the muzzle pointed downrange.

      Safely topping off or emptying a partially-full magazine is even worse; so complex that it’s nearly impossible to do at the range, much less in the dead of night. Loading a gun like this is a job that really takes more than two hands to perform, and there are a dozen ways to screw it up and get someone shot.

      I’m still waiting to play with Farago’s Big Boy .44 Magnum and do more lever-gun ballistics testing, but this loading gate is the only thing I’m not looking forward to.

      • avatarChris Dumm says:

        The loading gate on Marlins and Winchesters (and Rossis) is a little hard on your fingertips, but it’s a safe and simple one-handed job. If you’re quicker than me, you can even do it while covering a target.

        Unloading them requires working the lever partway to cycle them out of the magazine; you don’t need to actually chamber them since you can lay the receiver over to the right and let them fall out.

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          This trips my memory to the advantage of the pistol cartridge rifles and carbines. Ammunition redundancy. If I’m hauling gear and trying to travel light in BFE, or I’m foreseeing a survival or even survivalist situation, sharing the same ammo with my long arm and my sidearm. Of course, any one knowing me, there’s going to be a back up to my back up, just as surely as I’ll have a back up fighting knife to my main fighter. This is how I’ve hatched the scheme in my overactive mind that I need a BFR revolver in .45-70 to back up my Marlin 1895G. (Now to sell my girl on it) The next might well be an M1 Carbine and a Ruger Black Hawk in .30 carbine. I wonder if I can get into trouble if a Game Warden catches me hunting with a bayonet on the M1 Carbine?

  10. avatarDon says:

    I have a marlin 1894 in .44 mag, and the trigger is fantastic, however it really does not like SWC reloads, i.e. it won’t load them.

    Also when shooting hard cast lead reloads at lower velocities, it definitely likes 200 grain bullets better than anything else. Rifling is ballard style and I noticed that the twist rate on my rifle is similar to a 44-40, so I essentially make .44 reloads which are more consistent with a 44-40 lead reload. With jacketed bullets you can really drive the thing hard.

  11. avatarPete says:

    Marlin’s poor quality control is a shame. I have an 1895 (.45-70) from 1974, and an 1894 (.357) from 1982, and both of them show fine quality wood/metal fit, interior finish, and fairly decent trigger pulls. Some of the Marlins received in our local gun store had to be sent back, because the store owner didn’t want to sell poor quality to his customers. Wonder when Marlin decided “lousy QC procedures” was a viable business model?

  12. avatarJason says:

    I like my .45-70 (also equipped with XS rail) but if that’s what the QC is like these days, I think I’d rather have a Rossi 92.

  13. avatarFrank says:

    Has “Truth about Guns” ever done a report on Henry Lever Actions ?
    My Marlin is 35 years old and going strong.

  14. avatarWillie 2400 says:

    Fine and informative article. Well thought out replys. As far as quality is concerned, whenever a large corporation takes over a competitive company, all they push for is a cheaper way to produce and in turn make more money. After running the company into the ground, they part the company out and end their competition and a saga. End of story.

  15. avatarRobert Van Elsberg says:

    I had a Marling 1894 .357 Magnum back in the late 1980s. It was a lot of fun, but I noticed it tended to jam if the gun was tilted slightly to the right while I was working the lever. A couple of years ago I bought a Rossi Model 92 in .357 Magnum. I was wanting a short-barrel carbine, but the only one available was a 24-inch octagonal barrel. I went with it and it is just plain beautiful. The action is smooth, the trigger is perfect and accuracy is outstanding. Parked on top of 17.5 grains of 2400, my Hornady 125 grain XTPs will group under 2 inches at 100 yards — and that’s over the factory sights! One ragged hole at 50 yards is possible if I do my part. Having owned both the Marlin and the Rossi, my pick is the Rossi. The only advantage I see to the Marlin is the ease of mounting a scope on the receiver. Because the Rossi uses top ejection, you can’t do that. However, the company offers factory installed scout scope mounts forward of the receiver. While that wouldn’t be very authentic, it would be handy.

  16. avataroldpink says:

    I’m rather distressed to hear about the quality problems from Marlin of late, something I’ve heard murmurings about in other places.
    Such a shame, considering that during the early to mid 1980s, Marlin was so focused on QC that they were actually training other companies in how to improve, all the way down to the blue collar people themselves.

    I would mention to those who deride leverguns chambered in handgun calibers another advantage they have, specifically in my state (Indiana), which is that the only modern rifles allowed for deer hunting must be chambered in handgun calibers, with such calibers as even the .30-30 specifically illegal in rifles.

    I was hoping someone might be able to answer a question for me.
    I have a new Marlin 1894 on order, this time in .45 Colt, from the only place I have been able to find that has new ones in any caliber available.
    I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to sidestep the problems with the .44 Magnum/Special and .357 Magnum/.38 Special 1894s because Marlin seems to have discontinued manufacture of them in .45 Colt a while ago, so I’m making the logical conjecture that mine will be of the much better North Haven manufacture.
    I already favored .45 Colt, since my only revolver is my grand old Ruger Blackhawk in that caliber, so this was already my preferred caliber, which I intended to use in a rifle length tube for Whitetails this coming fall to extend my reach.
    I’m hoping a secondary benefit is that I will be able to get one of the Marlins of slightly older manufacture with the still much better QC.
    Anyone have any thoughts or even hard information about my ideas on this?
    It sure would be a shame to go get my rifle in February, only to find it all chewed up by some guy in the plant who never heard of proper hollowground screwdrivers.
    Anyone?

  17. avataroldpink says:

    Argh!
    I should have been more specific about the type of 1894 I was talking about having ordered, with probably most of you believing I meant the Cowboy version or the Limited.
    I’m talking about the plain jane 20″ barrel version identical to the .44 magnum version except that the caliber, .45 Colt.
    How about that?

  18. avatarMr. Carpenter says:

    Although it isnt a 1894, I however did recently buy an 1895G in 45/70. Needless to say, I returned it ( my local gun store refused a return, and sent it back to Marlin) the next day as it refused to chamber a round, eject a round, and has many cosmetic flaws. I am still waiting for it to come back from Marlin. I am interested to see if they fixed the problem(s). I am sad that such a reputable company would send a gun from the line with so many problems. I have yet to shoot it, and it has been 3 weeks since I sent the weapon back for repairs.

  19. avatarGreg G. says:

    Man that is terrible for you and Marlin!

    That is too bad. I had an 1894cp in .357 mag that I got in 2001 or 2002. Best rifle I ever owned. Awesome wood and finish, well balanced, and shot great even with the traditional floppy trigger. The only thing I did with it was change out the sights to the XS ghost rings. Grouped both .357 and .38 tight. (although I wasn’t hot on the porting. It didn’t need it.) No barrel bands. Fine little carbine.

    If I had known then that Remington would buy Marlin, move the factory, and ruin a legendary company I would not of let it go thinking I’d get another down the line.

    Marlin used to be one of the best deals you could get in a simple rifle. I order my 1894cp from the wal-mart special order catalog for CHEAP! ( Could never find one in a store/gun show in Houston)

    I am now on the quest to buy up as many old Marlins as I can find.

  20. avatarB Hummel says:

    I wish I had read this a month ago. I just bought one of the increasingly difficult to find 1894 C’s. I opened the box (ordered over the internet) and dropped my jaw in disbelief. ALL of the problems you cited were identical to mine (including the finish). The one you did not mention is the edges of the hammer are sharp enough to shave with! Lots of work to be done on a NEW GUN. It’s a shame…Marlin implies a high standard of excellence, but not any more. I own an old 30AS that is like a piece of furniture compared to this gun. I just couldn’t believe this was a new Marlin when I opened it. I even went to a gun show a few days after receiving the gun and found an exact duplicate at the show (exact in every way-same issues). So these aren’t a few bad ones that got past QC people. This IS the quality of Marlin now.

  21. avatarJohn says:

    When I went to the local gun shop to buy another lever action gun, I asked what it would cost for a Marlin 1894? Now it’s important to note I’ve purchased several guns from these guys over the years, and they, in my opinion, are experts with decades of experience in sales and gunsmithing. He told me he could get me a new one, but that he wouldn’t recommend it. The reason: Quality control, or lack there of. I have already owned Henry’s for years, and they have worked perfectly. The thing I don’t like is the loading. I decided to pay a little more and get the Henry Big Boy and live with the tube loading. Thousands of rounds later, not a glitch. The brass needs polishing once in a while; it is a heavy gun; it is an accurate gun. I really love the Marlins, but there’s nothing worse than getting a new toy and having it in the shop before you can enjoy it. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from guys that own Marlins. I really hope that they get it together. But until then, I’ll stick with Henrys, Winchesters, and Ubertis.

    • avataroldpink says:

      Trouble is, new manufacture Winchesters are now made in Japan, and both Uberti and Winchester are VERY expensive now, as in at least $1,000 for their leverguns.
      I’ve heard lots of good things about the Henry, but I don’t want all that flashy brass out in the woods looking for Bambi, plus scope mounting is not the easiest thing to pull off on them.
      That leaves only the Marlin.
      Monday morning, I am going on my road trip to pick up my Marlin 1894 chambered in .45 Colt, the standard version, not the Cowboy Limited.
      They quit making them in .45 Colt a few years ago, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed in the hope that this one will be one of the good ones, made before Remington took over and wrecked the joint.
      Will keep you updated on my findings once I have it in my hands.

  22. avataroldpink says:

    ***UPDATE***
    Hey folks, I just wanted to let you know that I just now got home with my brand new Marlin 1894 (standard, 20″ round barrel version) .45 Colt, and it looks just fine.
    Nice finish on the walnut, no mangled screwheads, smooth levering and a not too bad trigger, the sights are centered up, and I can’t find anything to complain about.
    It looks as if my hunch was right: Marlin quit making the 1894 in .45 Colt a year or two ago, and this was sitting on the shelf somewhere, escaping the quality issues from the buyout and move.
    If anyone is interested, you can still get them from the only large retailer I know of who has them in .45 Colt, and get the .45 Colt models on sale for $530 (the sale may end as of next month, but you can check their site to see) at Cabela’s.
    They will even do layaway for two months, asking for 25% down ($140) and I used six weeks before finally scraping together the balance and making the very long road trip to get it.
    I just mounted the scope, a really nice Hawke2.5-10x44mm side focus scope with a half mil-dot reticle in a one-piece Game Reaper medium heigh mount, and I already think I’m in love.
    I have a feeling that the same model version in .44 and .357 Magnum will not be in as good a shape, at least not until Remington gets their workers trained and properly seasoned in the new plants.
    Get ‘em while you can.
    I only wish this site had a provision for me to post photos, but maybe I’ll post later with links to my PhotoBucket account so you can at least cut-and-paste those into your URL bar to take a look at mine.

  23. avatarMr. Carpenter says:

    Well, I got the Marlin back from repairs. It chambers ok and ejects now..nice features of a gun. The rear sight was bent while shipping and the lever is as sharp as a razor. While it is a solid gun and seems ok now, I probably wont be buing any more Marlins. I ordered a new Winchester recently 1892 in 357 mag. It was a toss up between that and a henry. There are NO Henrys in NY. Henry was 200 cheaper too.. Hopefully the winchester will be flawless and there wont be any problems. However, on a good note. I did write the Marlin company, they called and they sent me tons of new parts for the gun to make me happy, also a free scope mount rail. The man that called asked if he had restored my confidence in Marlin. Hmm. I asked him if I should just order new parts for my next marlin before I buy that one too.

  24. avatarRobert Van Elsberg says:

    I had considered a Marlin because I like the idea of mounting a scope on top of the receiver and the faster rate of twist compared to my Rossi Model 92. However, my Rossi is beautiful to look at, handle and shoot. Nice trigger right out of the box. I did swap out the sights as the factor sights shot high with 125 grain JHP .357 loads.
    With regard to the Rossi, I wish it had the Marlin’s rate of twist (1-18.5 inches). Because the Rossi is much slower (1-30 inches) it doesn’t stabilize heavy bullets well. I typically shot Hornady 125 XTPs in .357 Magnum (17.5 grains of 2400 or 19.6 grains of H-110) and .38 Special (4.6 grains of Red Dot) and get superb accuracy. However, I once tried factory-loaded Hornady 140 grain Leverevolution rounds with disappointing results. I will try some reloading with JHPs in the 140 to 158 grain range and see if I can’t better the factory ammo. That said, the Rossi is my “Go-to” gun for chores requiring something with a bit more range than my 1911 .45 ACP.

  25. avatarGeorge says:

    I fired 3 rounds from my brand new Marlin 1894c .357 and had to send it back to Marlin…jammed with the bolt open,,,took 4 weeks to get it back,,,they said that a hairline crack in the stock was the cause…odd….but anyway it is a great little gun,,,my 11 yr old son loves it,,,, I did write down the info for the drop in replacement trigger,,,no doubt the trigger is HORRIBLE,,,mine hates anything but LeveEvoltion rounds…

  26. avatarGerrit van Rensburg says:

    It seems that I am very fortunate. I bought a Marlin 1894C, chambered for the .357 magnum, back in 1985 from City Guns, Cape Town, South Africa. My rifle’s fit and finish was very good although, at the time, it still came without chequering. I have fired many hundreds, if not thousands, of rounds through this little carbine the past 27 years, mostly hand loads and the only feeding problems ever experienced was with semi wadcutters which required a bit of a shake to feed.
    I have killed numerous Warthog and Impala with it, all one shot kills with very little meat damage. With age came the need to fit a little Lynx 1.75 – 5 power variable scope and back in action I were! I farm with game and the Marlin is my preferred companion whilst doing fence patrols on the quad bike, nice, handy and quick into the shoulder.
    Regards from a sunny South Africa.

    • avatardustyvarmint says:

      Gerrit,

      Thanks for this reply. I am considering a long-term return to RSA and trying to decide upon the right tool for me. This sounds excellent.

      Happy shooting, dv

  27. avatarralphrotten says:

    I just bought one and I am waiting for it’s arrival. If I open the box and see anything like what some of you have described, I will not do the transfer.

    RR

    • avatarralphrotten says:

      rifle is all good x-fer done!

      • avatarChris Dumm says:

        Glad to hear it. The pistol-caliber Marlins are starting to trickle back onto gun store shelves, and the quality seems to be improving a bit. Hopefully they’ll keep it up and restore this classic to its place of honor in the history of American sporting arms.

        • avataroldpink says:

          Chris, for what it’s worth, my Marlin 1894 .45 Colt (the plain 20″ barrel model, NOT the Cowboy) is great, and I believe from not long after the Remington buyout.
          I called Marlin after I bought it, asking when it was manufactured by giving them the serial number, and they said it was made in November of 2010.
          I really love this little rifle, and I was able to put a full magazine of nine of my handloads using my stout handloads with 225 grain Hornady FTX (the same bullet used in Hornady’s LeveRevolution ammo) inside a single ragged hole @ 50 yards, and from a really poor rest at that!

  28. avatarMurphy says:

    I work at marlin. Just wanted to say that when we at remington arms received marlins machinery it was in shambles, but now, two years later, Beter than ever!

    • avataroldpink says:

      That’s pretty interesting. Do you know if everything is set up and whether Remington plans to resume production of all the guns made before the move?

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      As Spock would say, “That data explains many things.” I’m relieved that things are looking up for the guns and the brand.

  29. avatarRuss Orchard says:

    In 1997 here in U.K we lost all our pistols (totally banned) so almost all pistol shooters converted to the Marlin 1894 in .357″. I am stunned by your comments particularly the Trigger. We have not experienced any of the problems mentioned, but maybe the odd breaking firing pin. I only get to shoot at 25 metres, but last year split a playing card edge on, with a scope and rested with the third shot. A 158 gr. plated bullet over 6 grns. of Viht. 310 from a rest will give me a 12 round 1/2″ group any time I ask.
    I guess it makes a change for us to get better examples of guns than you guys.
    All the very best from England.

  30. I have a Marlin golden39 A rifle model R10702 I would like to know where to get parts for it.

  31. avatarBob Van Elsberg says:

    Having enjoyed my first Rossi Model 92, I decided to buy the short 16-inch barrel version in .357 Magnum. I could not believe it came from the same factory as my first one. If you tightened the screws in the reciever, the rifle wouldn’t work at all. The dovetail for the front sight was not cut properly and the front sight angled a bit to the right. I got some good advice over the phone from the gentleman at the Stevesgunz website and fixed the problem with the screws. It seems Braztach had counterbore them too deeply and I had to make spacers — coils cut from the spring of a retractable pen — to cure the problem. Even then it was more fussy about what it would feed in .357 Magnum and there was still a bit of a hitch at the bottom of the lever’s movement. I made the gun reliable, but I was greatly disappointed at the spotty quality control. I would still buy another Rossi but I would order it from Davidson’s so, if needed, I could take advantage of their replacement program for guns that come out of the factory with flaws.
    I have looked at the Marlin lever action rifles in the store and can see the poor wood to metal fit. What a disappointment! In years past I have owned Marlin rifles and been very satisfied with them. What ever happened to pride in workmanship?

  32. avatarBob Van Elsberg says:

    I bought another Rossi Model 92 with the 24-inch octagon barrel. Just like the first 24-incher I owned, it is a beautiful shooter. The sights have been changed to the traditional brass bead front and buckhorn rear. While they look good and much more authentic that the sights on my first Rossi, I can tell a rear peep would help me when shooting at a distance. Apparently the 16-inch Rossi I complained about in an earlier email in this string was one that got by the QC folks. I am very pleased with my new rifle. I’ll give Rossi the benefit of the doubt and get another 16-incher. They are cute, light and fast to handle. These lever guns are fun, and I suppose those who carried the original guns made back in the 1890s, thought they were fun too!

  33. avataroldpink says:

    Update
    I went deer hunting with my “REP” stamped Marlin 1894 .45 Colt round barrel (standard model, NOT the Cowboy Limited) last November, taking my first ever deer at between 60 and 70 yards easily.
    The doe fell literally without taking a single step, with the 225 grain Hornady FTX (yes, the same bullet used in Hornady LeveRevolution factory loads) through the front of the lungs, breaking the spine before exiting the neck.
    I’m entirely satisfied with my Marlin.

    • avatarBob VanElsberg says:

      Interesting comment on your deer hunt with a Rossi Model 92 in .45 Colt. I am considering switching from a .357 Magnum to a .45 Colt because of the current scarcity of JHP bullets for reloading in .357 Magnum. A good cast bullet in .45 Colt is, I believe, better than a cast bullet in .357 Magnum when it comes to hunting. In a sense, it is like returning to the orginal .44-40 caliber, which proved itself popular and successfull during the period of the Old West.

      Thanks for your interesting comment!

  34. avatarTom says:

    Have an older 1894 CS. About 300 rds.
    Triggerbreak and cycling are smooth. Feedgate is very stiff. Accuracy is very decent.
    All the rough spots that show on your gun – are smooth and fitted on my mine.
    So I guess they are cutting corners now.

  35. avatarMarkR says:

    Excellent review, thank you!

    I wished I had bought a Marlin when they were Marlins with Marlin quality. What a tragedy this company’s products have disintegrated into. Makes me wonder if the employees either don’t want to work or they are gun haters or they have been driven into crazed overworked and worn-out burnouts by mad overzealous boss-loards.

    • avataroldpink says:

      Not so fast, MarkR.
      It looks likely that Remington has gotten things together with Marlin lately, and here are two videos from the same guy, who works at a gun shop that explain that.

      This first video, from December 2011, from the guy reviewing an early post-buyout Marlin, with complaints about fit, finish, and handling – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi79kO51R4U

      The second video, from March 2013, from the guy reviewing a Marlin, this time expressing satisfaction with fit, finish, and handling – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoE36_1fg8c

      I wouldn’t just blindly assume it’s all gone down the tubes at Marlin now, and the best way to go would be to go to a gun shop and actually lay hands on your potential buy first to see how you like it now.

  36. avatarGreg says:

    Yowser you have convinced me. I heard Marlin post Remington were junk but didn’t know how bad. I’ll stick with my CZ bolt action.

    • avataroldpink says:

      Not so fast, Greg.

      Video review from guy who was less than enchanted with an early post-buyout (almost two years ago) Marlin – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi79kO51R4U

      Video review from the same guy with a Marlin from only six months ago – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoE36_1fg8c

      You will notice that the guy was highly critical of the fit and finish of the Marlin in the first video, pulling no punches and showing the specifics of his complaints.
      Contrast that with the second review, in which he is clearly rather pleased with the Marlin he examines.
      It looks as if Remington may well have the initial manufacturing problems resolved, at least going by this and some other reviews floating around out there.
      I say at least give them a chance.

  37. avatarMeaux says:

    I have had my1894C for a few years, it’s mostly been in the safe because it jams every second round or so. I took it to a gun-smith and he has been mostly polishing the internals which he said was the worst he has ever seen from the factory, even has burs in the chamber. I hope when I get it back the action works cause when I have fired it it is extremely accurate…

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  39. avatarJames says:

    I have an 1894c I bought on a whim several years ago. It was made in North Haven and I’m not sure what year. The gun shop owner told me he had actually lost it in the back of his shop. He’d found it a couple of days earlier, and had to dust it off before putting it on the rack about 5 minutes before I walked in to but ammo for my S.& W. revolver. I’ve never regretted the purchase. I put a Skinner peep sight on it and it’s probably the best truck gun I’ve ever had. Handy, light, accurate within its range, and carries the same round as my revolver. I’ve taken 14 hogs, and 2 deer with it. I’m glad to see Marlin’s quality is coming back. The side ejection, even though I don’t have a scope it, is still my preference. The only thing that I find even slightly annoying is it doesn’t want to chamber another round if the rifle is leaning to the right. To left or vertical, its smooth as glass.

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